Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract.


This is the ‘in my pocket book’ of choice at the moment. I’m re-reading Rousseau in an attempt to see if I can apply his inquiry into ‘political society’ to an understating of small group dynamics. Much of Book I seems to resonate with my emerging views about individuals and small groups as collaborative learning ‘communities’, which is encouraging.

I outline below selected quotes of interest:

On an individuals Agency, ‘Force made the first slaves; and their cowardice perpetuates their slavery.’

The unwritten contract shaping a socialised-learning dynamic, ‘The Social Pact’

The power and purpose of a group of learners engaged in collaborative group learning, ‘Since men cannot create new forces, but merely combine and control those which already exist, the only way in which they can preserve themselves is by uniting their separate powers in a combination strong enough overcome any resistance, uniting them so that their powers are directed by a single motive and act in concert.’

The fundamental problem that a CGL approach to achieving a education for liberation addresses, ‘How to find a form of association which will defend the person and goods of each member with the collective force of all, and under which each individual, while uniting himself with the others, obeys no one but himself, and remains as free as before.’

Social rules and norms of the group, ‘These articles of association, rightly understood, are reducible to a single one, namely the total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community. Thus, in the first place, as every individual gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all, and precisely because they are the same for all, it is in no one’s interest to make the conditions onerous for others.’

Individuals become more once part of a collaborative learning group, ‘Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole.’

With the individual becoming a member of and more through the group, singular ego become a productive ‘common ego.’

In Chapter 9, Rousseau discusses ‘Property’. If one reads property as that which is possessed or produced (‘goods’) by an individual and group (‘community’) we can see property as perhaps a social capital of knowledge, understanding, skill.

Interpreting ‘goods’ as social learning capital, such as shared knowledge, understanding and skills, those possessed and applied by the individual applied, help create that unique community of learners;  ‘Every member of the community gives himself to it at the moment it is brought into being just as he is – he himself, with all his resources, including his goods.’

A ‘social pact’ which recognises a moral code of interaction enhances equality as, perhaps through bringing individuals whom may be perceived as unequal together in shared activity, pools all ‘goods’ to ensure equality for all as a product of the group interaction; ‘the social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.’

In Book II Rousseau outlines his thoughts concerning ‘political’ structure and associated power. Again this can be read as the politics of small groups and not just as Nation States.

‘But if groups, sectional associations are formed at the expense of the larger association, the will of each of these groups will become general in relation to its own members …’ In this I recognise the idea of in-group factionalism and the role this can play in breaking down the cohesive nature and with that the most effective state of collaboration. As the whole breaks into its parts deagentification of individuals is possible and with this the destruction of a state of collaborative group learning.

And finally…

On the size of a collaborative learning group, with 5-6 members being not ‘too large to be well governed nor too small to maintain itself.’

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